Wikipedia’s Notability Requirement

by on November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

The more I think about it, the less sense Wikipedia’s notability rule makes. That’s the rule that says that the subject of an article must “worthy of notice” to merit the creation of an article about them. For example, today I was goofing off on Wikipedia and looking at Wikipedia’s encyclopedic coverage of the Taft family. I was curious about Pres. Taft’s living relatives, so I drilled down to William Howard Taft IV, and I noticed that he has a son, William Howard Taft V, who appeared not to have a Wikipedia entry.

So I googled WHT V and quickly came to this 2005 wedding announcement in the New York Times. I thought I’d do my good deed for the day and create a new Wikipedia article based in the information in the Times story.

But it turns out I’m not the first person to think of this. The powers that be at Wikipedia have deleted past incarnations of a WHT V page on the grounds that the guy isn’t “notable.” Said “Kinu” in February 2006: “Just because your father is famous doesn’t make you famous automatically. Until he does something to establish his own noteworthiness, no article; a passing mention in the William Howard Taft IV is good enough.”

This is asinine. The guy isn’t famous, but at least a few people (including me) are interested in learning more about him. It’s hard to see what purpose is served by removing his article. Disk space is now so cheap that including him is effectively free. Moreover, Wikipedia has a powerful enough set of search and organization tools that having “too many” article doesn’t really get in anyone’s way. You’ll never come across a WHT V article unless you are looking for it. And if non-notable sources do start cluttering up search results, a much more straightforward approach is to simply flag non-notable articles and then add an “include non-notable articles” checkbox to the search engine. Deleting non-notable articles is an extreme and unnecessary step.

Most of the arguments you hear for the notability requirement are better dealt with via the no original research rule, the biographies of living persons, and the rule against adding material to an entry about oneself. These requirements ensure that the biographies of most non-famous people will be very short, if not non-existent, since they are rarely the subject of mainstream media coverage.

My guess is that the real reason Wikipedia insists on a notability requirement is that it’s still got a hint of an inferiority complex. “Serious” encyclopedias don’t have entries about your neighbor’s dog, so if Wikipedia wants to be a serious encyclopedia, it had better not have an entry about your neighbor’s dog either! But the reason paper encyclopedias don’t have entries about really obscure subjects isn’t that there’s something intrinsically wrong with covering them. It’s that resource constraints–paper and ink, staff time–make covering them financially prohibitive. Wikipedia, of course, doesn’t have that problem, since disk space is cheap and labor is free. So they should realize that, as long as it’s reliable and respects peoples’ privacy, more information is always better than less.

Previous post:

Next post: